In the past, I always loathed giving group projects. Invariably one or two students would end up doing much of the work, whether it was writing the content or assembling individually completed pieces in the final product. And this dynamic wasn’t the fault of the student – it was the simple consequence of computer programs such as Microsoft Powerpoint being designed for use by a single user at a time. You could just not have more than one person typing at a computer.
Enter Prezi. This tool, like other cloud-based applications, forces dead-weight group members to contribute and removes the previously-immutable physical limitations of document creation.
I use Prezi in the context of a current events group presentation project (download the handout and associated rubrics). In groups of 2-4, students choose one of several questions to research:
- China: What will China’s global role be in the next 20 years?
- America: What will America’s global role be in the next 20 years?
- Russia: Russia has been called a “mafiacracy.” Will it continue as such?
- Middle East: What will the Arab world look like in 20 years? ii. International geopolitical issues:
- Are multinational alliances or unions appropriate in the modern day? (GCC, EU, Arab League, UN, NATO)
- Is it impossible for some countries to become democratic?
- Should certain forms of government be disallowed?
- Who are the winners and losers in a global economy?
- Should humanity be striving to develop a global culture?
- Is technology making the world more equal or unequal?
- Does the world have enough time to solve the problem of global warming?
Grappling with such broad, open-ended topics requires a methodical research process and organized group workflow. Students are required to:
- Create a question web composed of sub-questions that students feel will help them answer their essential question.
- Find and summarize sources that help answer these sub-questions.
- Refine their question web with additional or modified questions.
- Find and summarize additional sources to fill in gaps in their knowledge.
- Write a list of works cited or a bibliography.
- Draft a visual aid and topic summary handout to aid their presentation.
- Present their findings to the class.
Prezi is instrumental in steps 1 and 6: helping students to collaboratively explore which facets of their essential question interested them; and presenting these findings, visually, to their peers. I make each student open a free account on Prezi (if your school provides email accounts to students, then they can probably take advantage of the upgraded features of educational accounts). One group members is then responsible for creating a new Prezi document and using the “Invite to Edit” feature so that all other group members can view and add content to that document. I give students a class period to discuss possible avenues to explore, and they brainstorm sub-questions that might help them to answer their essential question. They go out a research those sub-questions, then come back and modify their question web to include new and/or refined questions.
They also share their Question Web with me using their Project Checkpoints Google Doc Spreadsheet.
Many groups choose to use Prezi to make their visual aid for the presentation, once again using the “Invite to Edit” feature so that all group members can work on the Prezi at once, whether they are at home or at school. Some of them even choose to use the Question Web as the visual aid, editing content to be concise and adding relevant images.
I’ll keep this short and sweet. Because of its cloud-based nature and real-time collaborative features, Prezi (and Google Docs, which offers simultaneous editing of Powerpoint-like slideshows) offers the following benefits:
- Lets all group members work at the same time, which is very efficient
- Leverages expectancy phenomenon to motivate students to contribute their best, since the results of their work are readily apparent to their group members and the teacher
- Makes it impossible to lose work
- Makes professional-quality multimedia products possible; no more Mickey Mouse cut ‘n’ paste jobs
- Is frakking cool. The kids think so, too.
The cloud has changed the way I feel about groupwork, for all the reasons enumerated above. I only wish I was at a 1:1 school so that I could use this more often for in-class processing assignments. Making a timeline? Do it in Prezi. Visual dictionary? Prezi. Poster? Prezi. Prezi, Prezi, Prezi. And the kids love it. Seeing their partner’s work magically appear on the screen is about as cool as watching Prezi’s zooming effects in action. I’d like to extend this to other tools, like Google Docs and Dipity for timelines.
The only caveat: My school doesn’t have the bandwidth to make this workable at peak hours; Prezi slows down so much that it is unusable. Do you teach in Korea? Use Prezi; use it a lot. Do you teach in Myanmar? Don’t bother.